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2015 Twins Steamer projections: scoring runs

How many runs will the Twins score in 2015? Jesse takes a first crack at it.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Even if you don't buy into metrics like Wins Above Replacement or Runs Created, you can't deny that baseball games are won and lost based on a team's ability to score and prevent runs. The 2014 Minnesota Twins scored 715 runs (5th in the AL) and allowed 777 (last in the AL), which should have won them 75 games by pythagorean standards instead of 70, but nevertheless it's obvious where the issues lie: run prevention.

Today, however, I want to look at the run scoring half of the equation. Can the Twins score more than 715 runs in 2015? Working in their favor:

  • Joe Mauer is likely to have a better season
  • Oswaldo Arcia's continued development should lead to a better season
  • A full season of Kennys Vargas and Danny Santana, even if they take a step backwards in production (they probably will), will be better than including Jason Kubel and Pedro Florimon into the equation
  • Torii Hunter's production should be better than what the Twins had out of left field in 2014
Against them, on the other hand:
  • Brian Dozier, Kurt Suzuki, and Trevor Plouffe had career years; can they repeat?
  • Unexpectedly hot starts and overall performances from Vargas and Santana
Those are good talking points, but they're hard to turn into projections for scoring runs. For that we turn to the off-season oracles, such as ZiPS or Bill James or, in this case, Steamer. Steamer uses the last three years of data for both hitters and pitchers, with different weights for each component of their projection, and utilizes things like age and park factors just like a couple of the other oracles. Steamer is also an interesting oracle because it uses a reliability score for its wOBA metric, which essentially tells you how likely their projection will be to come true. You can play with it here. Guys with more playing time and higher projections are easier to see in a crystal ball than young players with little or no experience; which is another way of saying that Brian Dozier's projected wOBA of .321 is more reliable to hit or exceed it self than Jorge Polanco's .287, or that Joe Mauer's .370 is more reliable than Jordan Schafer's .286.

So, how many runs does Steamer see the Twins scoring? Well, that's the bad news. Steamer says the Twins will score 660 runs in 2015. That would have earned them 8th place in the AL this year, a full 17 runs below average. Most of us, I think, imagine that Minnesota's offense would be better next year than it was in 2014, so - what gives?

Youth and inexperience, is the short answer. Which also means that the reliability score is going to be pretty low for the Twins, considering the youth of the team.

For example, Steamer thinks that Aaron Hicks will get just 71 plate appearances this year and score just seven runs, while hitting .232/.318/.347. Some of us may think that's accurate, but the truth is that Hicks will probably get at least 300 plate appearances more than that and it's highly likely he'll post an on-base percentage closer to .340 than .318. Steamer is similarly pessimistic about Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas, Josmil get the idea. Because baseball history is unkind to young players without much experience, projection systems like Steamer will spit on all of your optimistic, sugar coated hopes and dreams for your favorite team and their players.

In spite of knowing this, I wanted to run an experiment with Baseball Musing's lineup analysis tool. By plugging in on-base average and slugging percentage for a given set of players, the tool will tell you how many runs per game that lineup should be able to score on average.
Mason's lineup seems more likely, since the Twins have always liked to hit Mauer third and I could see the team wanting Hunter to hit closer to the middle of the lineup. For me, I'd rather see Dozier's power sit in the three-hole, where it has a better opportunity to come up with a man (or two) on base to start the game, and I tend to like Plouffe's chances to be more productive than Hunter next year.

Here are the numbers I plugged into the tool.

Player Name OBA SLG
Danny Santana .309 .381
Brian Dozier .323 .403
Joe Mauer .370 .403
Kennys Vargas .316 .429
Oswaldo Arcia .322 .468
Torii Hunter .328 .427
Trevor Plouffe .316 .411
Kurt Suzuki .312 .363
Aaron Hicks .318 .347

My lineup would score 4.45 runs per game - or 721 runs in a season. Mason's would score 4.46 runs per game - or 723 runs in a season. Damn.

From those nine players, the tool submits that the best lineup formation would be able to score 4.54 runs per game (736 runs): Mauer, Hunter, Suzuki, Arcia, Dozier, Vargas, Plouffe, Santana Hicks. That will never happen, and I'm not convinced that it should. Naturally there are caveats all over the board: no nine players will take every plate appearance in a 162-game season, the tool doesn't account for backup players, the tool is using projections which are - by design - pessimistic.

Which sort of takes us back to square one. Can the Twins match or exceed their runs scored total of 715 from 2014? I think it will be close, and my reasons for thinking so have more to do with my bullet points at the start of this article than the research I've done via Steamer. Mostly, it's the pitching and the defense that concern me, because getting out of the American League's runs allowed basement should be easier than scoring even more runs.